A wise man (I think it was my 11th grade US History teacher, Mr. Gilfoyle, but maybe don’t quote me on that) once bestowed upon me a fairly important piece of advice that I’ve taken as virtual gospel ever since: if something goes without saying, let it. It is with that in mind that we bring you our latest Dying Scene exclusive interview, this time with none other than the one-and-only Klaus Flouride of the legendary Dead Kennedys.
The Kennedys have obviously been a lightning rod of controversy in the years since their sans-Jello Biafra reunion fifteen years ago. Nary a story has been written about the Dead Kennedys without bringing up the animosity between the three continuing members (East Bay Ray on guitar, Flouride on bass and DH Peligro on drums) and their former frontman, the inimitable Biafra. Opinions (particularly on the bastions of hate and vitriol that are ‘internet comment sections’) on who is at fault in deepening the chasm between both parties are varied, and supporters on both sides are pretty firmly entrenched. There also haven’t been many recent public developments, meaning that any discussion on “what happened with Biafra” and “where’s Jello Biafra” and “when’s Biafra coming back” would be treading in tired waters.
Flouride and his mates (including most recent post-Biafra vocalist Skip Greer) are slated to headline the Hi Fi Rockfest on September 26th in Long Beach, where they’ll be appearing alongside acts like Street Dogs, Naked Raygun, The Sonics and Richie Ramone. We caught up with Flouride to discuss the current state of the Kennedys, including their touring and recording habits, the changes in the music industry since the early DK years, and the band’s legacy. Oh, and Taylor Swift (for good reason, though).
Dying Scene (Jay Stone): Thank you for taking the time out to chat with us. On both a personal level and a ‘professional’ level, I greatly, greatly appreciate the opportunity.
Klaus Flouride (Dead Kennedys): Well thank you. We appreciate that people like to hear our opinions.
Dead Kennedys generally, but your bass playing and tone in particular, are sort of what got me in to picking up and noodling around with a bass guitar twenty years ago or however long ago it was. So I consider it an honor.
Well we always go out after we play and meet people and greet people, and the first person that says that to me gets an autographed pic. (*both laugh*) I just started giving the first person a pic and then I put “Klaus” on it. That’s always good to hear. Thank you.
At Dying Scene, we’re pretty involved with Hi Fi Rockfest, which is the next thing on the docket for Dead Kennedys, yeah?
Yeah, that’ll be part of the tour we’re going to head out on next.
Oh, there are other tour dates around that that aren’t announced yet? As of now, I thought it was a one-off show.
There’s going to be some other dates that’ll be announced.
Oh excellent. I don’t think we know that yet, so that’s great.
Yeah, we’re still confirming a few things.
Do you prefer playing the sort of festival shows like Hi Fi that’ll be held out in Long Beach, or do you prefer doing your own club shows? Or do you like doing a mix of the two?
I like to mix. That’s like saying ‘do you prefer spaghetti or do you prefer ice cream?’ you know? (*both laugh*). I like ‘em both, you know? They’re both completely different though. Playing festivals is sort of overwhelming in certain ways because there’s so many people and you’re trying to make a connection and stuff. When you’re playing clubs, it’s overwhelming in another way in that it’s less people and it’s a lot more intimate and they’re more in your face and you can see reactions better and stuff like that. You have to play a different way. For instance, we have songs that are ripping fast that when we play them in clubs, we can play them at that speed. But you play them at that speed at a festival, and the festival generally has some sort of big echo or it runs into garble, so we slow things down sometimes a little bit or we change the setlist so it doesn’t have as many of those.
The other thing that’s different between festivals and clubs is that at clubs, we always go out after the show, like I said, to meet people and stuff like that. With festivals sometimes, it’s kinda hard, because you have to walk around twenty buses or something like that just to get into the audience area of the festival and so we don’t get to meet people quite as easily. Probably by the time we get out there, some other band is on stage or everyone has run to another stage. So they’re different experiences. We’ve played clubs regularly. On tours now, we play intimate 200 people clubs up to..we’ve played for 100,000 people at times, and that becomes strange. People become pixilated! (*laughs*)
Right! I can’t wrap my head around 100,000 people at a venue for any artist really, never mind punk bands.
Seriously, I get more…I always get stage nerves. I always get stage fright. I try not to show it much. I have fun, but if it’s for a huge festival like that, I basically don’t get as wired up about it as much as I do when we’re under the microscope more in a small room. And also, the stage at a festival concert tends to be a lot larger, and you kinda have to fill that up and almost be…not cartoonish, but make a lot of bigger moves in a way in order to reach people. So they’re two different things entirely. And recording is a third different thing. It’s just a different way of making music.
I’m sure you guys must get offers all the time to do festivals like this. What goes in to the decision to what you’re going to play and where you’re going to play? I’d imagine they could fill your dance card up pretty quickly if you did a lot of festivals like this.
That’s the business end of things, really. I mean, they run it by us after they…”they” being an agent and our manager…decide on some things that they’d like to shoot far as far as festivals, then there’s shows in between. You also have to take into account travel time, so you’re not driving yourself ragged. If you’re playing a small club, you can stay at a place relatively close to the club. If you’re playing a big festival, it can be at least a twenty minute drive from the festival grounds to where you’re staying. What decides which one we’re going to do? We don’t turn down a lot of festivals.
We played Hellfest just recently, and it’s changed entirely from when we first played it. When we first played it, ten years ago, it was all basically grindcore. It’s this festival in France, and it was all grindcore and Cookie Monster stuff. It was one after another after another. We were headlining, and it was running way late. We went there to see a couple of the bands, so we got there and it was running, like, three hours late. We didn’t go on until 4:30 in the morning or something like that, 4:00 in the morning or whatever. So we come out and play our stuff and it sounded like The Beatles or something, you know? (*both laugh*) People were looking at us like “I’ve heard of these guys,” but they’re not big hardcore Kennedys fans, so it was strange that we were headlining it as the least-likely contenders. And yet, this year when we played it, it was much more varied, which we like. When we started out, there would be two or three or four bands on a bill and each band sounded really different back in the early days of punk. There would be art punk bands and there would be Sex Pistols wannabes and Ramones wannabes, three-chord bands, and then there would be some rockabilly influence in the next band, and then we’d come on. It would really be a lot of variety. I enjoy festivals that are like that more than festivals that are based after just one kind of sound.
Was there a moment where instead of sharing the stage with bands who just sounded like other bands, now all of a sudden you’re starting to share the stage with bands that sound like yours? That were clearly influenced by your band?
The thing is, there were bands more that sounded more like each other than sounded like us. And I’m not bragging, I’m just saying that a lot of bands have a template that they sort of go after, you know? And nobody seemed to grab on to the Kennedys template, as such. Each album sort of changed quite a bit, so there is a Kennedys sound and there’s not a Kennedys sound in a way. There aren’t that many bands out there, and I’m not saying this to boast, I’m just stating fact as far as I can see it, but there aren’t a lot of bands that sounded like the Kennedys, or tried to. It wasn’t a bunch of bands sounding like us, but there was a period starting after hardcore started to kick in where there were maybe four or five hardcore bands (on a show) and a lot of them sounded really similar to each other.
We were doing some hardcore also…in fact we were doing “Hyperactive Child” and things like that, and the In God We Trust period is our one, say, most hardcore, speedcore, whatever you want to call it. But then we went on and did Plastic Surgery Disasters which sounded entirely different. But around the time that that kicked in, that’s when a lot of shows, sometimes five or six bands at a club, not even at a festival but at a club, but it starts to not do the bands any favors to put five bands that sound like each other on. I’m not saying that happens all the time, but I’m saying that it happens, and it started happening around ’81 or something like that.
I do find it sort of bizarre that even know, 30 or 35 years or whatever after the Kennedys started, that you’re widely considered one of the most influential bands, particularly in this genre, ever, but that there aren’t a whole lot of bands that followed in your footsteps or copied the sound or copied the look or copied the sociopolitical intensity that you guys had.
The thing that you got that most people don’t catch is that there is a “socio” end of it. A lot of people label us as a political band, and there’s politics involved in it, but they’re not directly political songs if you listen to our music. It’s mostly the socio-interaction and what makes a person so crazy that they do things like “I Kill Children” or that thing of getting inside a person’s head like “Forest Fire” and songs like that. That stuff informs the politics, certainly. And it is odd that there are bands that tackle those things, but musically they don’t set up things like we did…or do.
Which I guess is something that’s in your favor. It’s been a tough style or a tough sound to replicate.
Yeah, it was against our favor at first, and then it became in our favor and it has sort of stayed in our favor. Again, like I say, when we first started, there was such variety that people listened to lots of different kinds of things. As long as it was exciting and not sounding like Fleetwood Mac or The Eagles, you know, (*both laugh*) it was all lumped in to “punk” for a while.
You guys recently got off the road from Europe, correct?
Yeah, we just got back at the beginning of July. Maybe the end of June, I guess.
DH (Pelligro) sat out those gigs, correct?
Yeah, he did.
Is he going to be available for the shows you’ve got coming down the ‘pike? Are things alright with DH?
As far as I know, he’s going to be on the next stretch of shows. Hopefully as long as we keep going he’ll be able to concentrate on the shows.
I’m glad that you mentioned “as long as we keep going.” What sort of drives you guys, particularly you and Ray nowadays, to fire the Dead Kennedys thing back up every year? It seems like the pattern lately has been a couple weeks here and a couple weeks abroad somewhere. What keeps you guys going now?
Playing the songs is what keeps us going. We like that. A small part of it is that the music industry has changed so much, and I hate to call it the “industry,” but that’s what it is. The whole way things are basically not bought and sold anymore but stolen has made touring not necessary, but it’s become a bigger part of what we make our living off of. We do shorter tours now, because we want to keep the shows high energy. We wouldn’t want to play a show that we wouldn’t like to go and see. And we’re not 30 anymore. We know our limitations as far as where we sort of run up against a brick wall and say ‘god, this is killing me!’ (*laughs*) I don’t know how bands like the Rolling Stones go out there and they’re ten years older than us and they play for two-and-a-half hours. I just don’t know. Anyhow, our shows are fairly intense, there’s not much jamming around. That helps define how and when and where we tour. Then it becomes more regional jumps than huge, long tours.
Then we can talk about the whole shift in the paradigm where the internet started making music free for kids. I never used Napster myself, because I’m a musician. I think cab drivers, you generally tend to tip well because they live off their tips. Waitresses and waiters and people like that. Certainly, in a way, being a musician is a service. It’s like going in to a restaurant and having a really nice meal and getting up and walking out, and the cook and the waitress and everybody doesn’t get any money. And it doesn’t last as long. When you download music that people have worked for maybe a year on just to get this piece of music sounding like they want it and putting it out, and you enjoy it for the rest of your life for free…it doesn’t make sense. People should be compensated. Right now the internet is a frontier still and needs to have some stuff put in place where people who put work in to something are compensated just as well or as much as somebody who works in an office would be compensated. Like if someone said “come in and work for my publishing company and we’re not going to pay you.”
That happens when you’re just starting out and you’re an intern. And actually when you do start out with a band, any band, you sort of are an intern. You get paid so little for what you put in. And it’s not all about the money, you do it for the love of the music and everything. But still, if somebody really enjoys it and feels that it’s of some value to them, especially to the point of where they download it…that’s really Ray’s area of expertise right now. He’s doing a lot of work around trying to get stuff regulated as far as musicians getting paid again outside of the twenty acts that are on the top and that you see on all the award shows and everything. (microphone dropped out for a few seconds. Operator error.) YouTube and stuff that’s got advertisements attached to it takes such a larger percentage, it’s almost like blues musicians in the ‘30s that got paid once for making a record and that was that.
Is that part of the reason that there isn’t a lot of Dead Kennedys material on places like Spotify and Google Play, which are sort of the places that people go to for now.
Yeah, we’ve pulled out of Spotify except for, I think, three songs or something. We’ve pulled out of a lot of those things and don’t get involved in them. What we do do, which is almost subversive in a way now, is we just put out a boxed set of our 45s. It’s a nice set, there’s a magazine, it’s 180 gram vinyl, and there’s absolutely no cache for somebody to take it and put it on the internet for free download. We have to sort of support ourselves by touring and merch and licensing now. And yet, still not doing commercials and stuff.
Does that factor, at least partially, into the decision to not make much in the way of new Dead Kennedys material now? Is part of that based on the financial part of it? Or is that more of a financial thing or a legacy thing or maybe something else entirely?
The reason we’re not on a lot of the internet providers is simply because they’re not fair not only to us but to any musicians that they have on there except for the 1% standard. It’s a sort of “occupy the internet” thing, by avoiding putting our stuff out there. It took forever for The Beatles to put stuff out there because it’s so unregulated that McCartney was more the spokesperson, calling the shots about what to put out for The Beatles now. They weren’t on the internet until they finally worked out a decent deal I think with Apple and iTunes. And then they went whole hog. You not only get the download but you get the digital booklet and stuff like that. Making money by putting a CD out is a lark at this point. Putting a CD out…some people will buy it. Some people will have a sense of understanding of what they’re getting, and the music is generally better quality than even high-grade downloads, unless you’re downloading at 44.1, you’re not getting as much as you’d get off of a CD. I’m just getting all technical now! (*both laugh*)
For right now, it’s hard for new bands to get started or to continue going. And then the internet says “there’s a lot of people out there, look at Taylor Swift…oops, can’t mention Taylor Swift anymore because she asks for some equity! What the hell is she doing? She’s not playing by the script?” (*both laugh*) By making the statement that she did with Apple…it’s interesting, here we are in a Dead Kennedys interview talking about Taylor Swift…but she really put herself in a position of respect and power larger than, say, Madonna or Lady Gaga or Katy Perry. She trumped them all by saying what should have been said by Madonna five years ago. She could have pulled that power thing back then, but she doesn’t need to. And that’s what (Swift) said too, “I don’t need to do this for me, I need to do it for all the musicians out there.” The cliché of starving musicians has become even more accurate, for starters, for new people.
Do you think you’d even bother trying to breaking in to this scene if you were starting out now?
Well, I would always play music. I would never assume that I was going to be able to give up my day job unless something very quirky happened or I watered down my music or something.
So does any of that factor in to the decision to not put out new Dead Kennedys material?
We’ve got stuff that…here’s an interesting thing that happened in the past with Dead Kennedys. We broke up as far as performing in 1986, separated in 1986. That was our first gig with the original lineup. Then we recorded Bedtime For Democracy after that, and didn’t tour to support it. We had the material before, but it hadn’t been recorded. We’ve got material, some of which we’ve tried out on the road, some of it’s really good, some of it doesn’t work outside of the studio. I’m not saying we’re going to put something out, but I’m not saying we’re not. I’ve learned back in the 90s, that if you had told me we’d be playing again, I’d say you were out of your mind! Here we are! And we’ve gone longer on this go around than we did on our first go around.
So we may put something out and it’ll probably sound a lot different, just as the other albums sound different from each other. We won’t put it out if we’re not happy with it ourselves. In putting it out, again, like you were saying…that’s not going to determine whether or not we put something out, but it may determine how we put something out.
All of us are working on different projects and all of those songs get out there on CD format. I’m working with this other project, and we’re not sure if we’re going to put CDs out at all. But I’m not here to talk about my project, we’re talking about the Kennedys!
Well but that’s fine, because that’s all part of it. You guys have all written songs, DH has Peligro obviously, Ray has the Killer Smiles…all of you having new material is part of the Dead Kennedys family tree. I think for some Kennedys fans, especially those that have followed you into the new era, I think they probably get frustrated by that you guys don’t put out stuff together.
I have my own website and people are always saying “we can’t get your records anymore.” Because I’ve put out some CDs and stuff like that. And I’m in the process of trying to put a retrospective together and it’s probably going to be called We Don’t Need No Stinking Retrospective or something like that. But we all have separate things we work on, and that keeps us fresh for working with the Kennedys too.
Have any of the new vocalists in the post-Biafra era expressed an interest in putting out new material? Because I could see that being an interesting thing to dip your toe in to, being the first-post-Biafra singer to put out an album with the Kennedys.
Yeah, that would be something people would have to wrap their heads around too. One of the main problems too is that when the original Kennedys were putting stuff out, we were living within twenty miles of each other, all in the San Francisco Bay. But right now, Skip lives in New York, DH lives in LA and Ray and I live in the East Bay. When we were doing the original stuff, it would come out of jamming at practices. We’d say “that’s a good riff,” and Biafra would either pull out some lyrics and start singing along with it or he’d come in with something and we’d put stuff together. It was all collaborative. It’s a lot less organic to do that sending files across back and forth. We get most of our new ideas together on the first couple of soundchecks on a tour. They’re generally longer than the rest of the soundchecks on tour, and we do some jamming during that. We just have to have the presence of mind to turn the iPhone on or something like that (*both laugh*). We’ll record that stuff for more ideas and then cobble something together into songs, just like we used to do. But it’s harder because we’re so spread out. We have written some stuff together, some of it ended up on the Killer Smiles (album).
I’m excited to hear what would come out eventually, so I hope there is a day and that it’s not a posthumous day where people are putting out stuff after the project has finally gone to bed. I hope there is a day where we see new Kennedys material.
I wouldn’t mind that myself certainly! I hope that day comes too. I’m not going to say it will and I’m not going to say it won’t.
Thank you for taking the time out of your afternoon to chat. I truly do believe it’s been an honor… Oh, one more thing I wanted to ask. I know you got your infamous (Fender) J Bass stolen or misplaced or whatever in Brazil, did you ever recover that or is it long gone?
Yeah, it’s somewhere in Brazil still, I’m guessing. And very probably in this Quonset hut storage space with TAM Airlines, and I’ll mention that and you can print it out; TAM Airlines, T-A-M. They’re the ones that lost it. When I first announced it two years ago now on Facebook, the first thing that happened was I got like 500 people wanting to be Facebook friends from Brazil. I just helter skelter added them all. But out of that, about 40 of them had actually worked for that airline and they said in Sao Paolo alone, there are something like five big Quonset hut buildings that house lost luggage and it stays there and there’s stuff that’s been there since the ‘80s or whenever the hell TAM Airlines started. They look at it like it’s more worth it for them to pay off the $200 if they lose your luggage thing that you automatically agree to when you buy a ticket, than it is to pay somebody overtime to go out and look for a piece of luggage, be it a guitar or a bag or anything.
They have so much now that it’s becoming less and less profitable for them and profit is what the airlines are all about, obviously. But then the upside of it was that a friend of mine commissioned a person I’d never met, who is a luthier, to make a replica that he really did a great job on. From scratch, he’s got the chips on it, he’s done it mostly from photos. He wound the pickups himself. The thing actually sounds and plays better than the original one did. Some of the stickers are even on there replicated. The DK sticker that was on there is not gettable anymore. We searched all over the internet. They wanted to do it as a big surprise, but about halfway through the project, he had to ask me to come down and tell him what it needs here and what it needs there. That’s an honor right there, that somebody would do that, and won’t let me pay them back for it!